The recent near-miss involving gymnast Thema Williams and the Gymnastics Federation ought to have drawn greater attention to important governance issues related to the work of representative organisations even in fields outside of sport–almost all measurable to the extent of their dysfunctionality.
I think we should use the opportunity to conduct an examination of the state not only of our representative sporting associations but other civil society organisations as well. Politicians are known to blow hot and cold while organisations craving their independence assert an inalienable right to represent the interests that have anointed them.
Mind you, sports organisations operate on a well-established international protocol of safety from the exercise of government influence, even as there is a natural reliance on state financial support. They serve as virtual national franchises of international bodies and therefore rightfully assert both their policy-making and operational independence from the state so as to ostensibly avoid needless commingling of political and sporting interests. That is fine.
But, in exchange for this, there is an implicit expectation on the part of the population on whose behalf these outfits operate and whose flag they fly, that there should be high levels of transparency and accountability. This is especially so since despite their insistence on unfettered independence, direct state financial infusions and popular support form the backbone of most of their operations.
The West Indies Cricket Board especially comes to mind. But I believe they need specially-devoted column space.
It is like playing financial mas' but resisting the threat of the powder of accountability. Almost without fail, our national sporting organisations are perennially cap-in-hand, skinning teeth before the Minister of Sport. In the process, opportunities to strengthen the process of financial self-reliance are frequently foregone.
What ensues is a well-known cycle of love and hate involving hungry organisations and ruling administrations intent on extracting what they consider to be their fair share of political capital.
There are particularly spectacular examples in sports other than gymnastics, but we can avoid the sordid details on this page at this time.
It is not quite the same in other areas, but we can look at all of them as parts of a wider, single package.
I remember well the politician who rose to prominence on account of his own special-interest advocacy on a particular recurrent public issue. It did not take him long upon achieving high office to throw the question in my face, in the midst of some press freedom advocacy I was leading: "Who voted for you (to challenge us)?" There were, of course, no benefits to withdraw, so we eventually won.
It is an accepted assertion that prospects for the survival of any developing nation can be determined by the strength of the interventions of its civil society institutions.
The same goes for the full spectrum of so-called "non-governmental organisations" that form long lines for largesse while in recess from battles against a state infrastructure often operating more as an obstacle than a facilitator of required progress in the respective areas.
We have witnessed, for example, the wild-eyed frenzy that followed development of a state registry comprising artists, cultural workers and their groups and organisations. It is a queue no self-respecting artist should gleefully join except for the cynical opportunity to get a piece of the action. Easy pickings. Sign up and start collecting.
The carrot swinging wildly before our eyes is as patronising as it is dangerous in the context of setting the parameters for free expression. So, somebody or bodies willingly agreed that the Government should "register" our creative folk so that they and their representative organisations can become "more attractive to sponsors and promoters"?
There is also the "benefit" of "state recognition as an artist" and "internationally recognised certificates."
Now, before anyone dies laughing, let me state that I am aware of the effort to "certify" people under the banner of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) in order to facilitate the free movement of people throughout the region, since I have led the effort over the years to resist a similar regime for media workers. But this is hardly an "internationally-recognised certificate" that will help anyone sell anything. People will pay for good art and reject poor art.
I am still searching for the "certificate" Jackie Hinkson hangs near his paintings or that David Rudder waves before coming on stage. Who from the halls of power would have paid to publish Walcott's Omeros? Would he have needed to "register" first?
Additionally, under no circumstances should any government take onto itself the prerogative of identifying who is or is not an artist. This is just one step away from the imposition of a state censor to vet scripts, review art and murals before they become acceptable for public consumption. More than once, over the years, politicians responsible for doling out the loot to entertainers have indeed cracked or threatened to crack the financial whip.
But it's not only a matter of money and artists. A split labour movement, to cite another example, has presented global tripartite platforms with the serious challenge of recognition–a matter currently, and ironically, left in the hands of one of the three parties, namely the state. The call for "labour unity" thus has meaning beyond trite references to it on Labour Day.
This whole civil society business needs some sorting out. If your survival relies almost exclusively on state subventions, you are not a "non-governmental organisation" in the sense that you can reliably be expected to be your own person, developing your own independent programmes to bring about positive change.
There also need to be concerted institution-building efforts that help wean many civil society organisations away from persistent reliance on the state for survival. Only so can civic-minded people and their organisations truly assert their independence.
Economic difficulties have the potential to accelerate such a process, even though it would be left to be seen who comes first, second and third in the firing line.